Among the great NFL mysteries, perhaps on par with how Jason Garrett remains employed as Cowboys coach, is the Bills’ Week 14 underdog status.
Baltimore (10-2) is favored against Buffalo by nearly a touchdown.
Although the Bills (9-3) are from perfect, they are fully capable of taking out the Ravens and, dare I say, even AFC East rival New England. Like most of the rest of the country, I’m a little late to the Bills’ party. But their humiliation of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving convinced me something special is going on in Buffalo besides the Bills Mafia. Digging a little deeper, I see a stout defense, a capable running game and a quarterback on the rise.
Let’s examine the evidence:
The Bills’ defense ranks third in the league in points and yards allowed. Buffalo is particularly strong against the pass, having allowed the third-fewest yards and second-fewest touchdowns. Look out, Tom Brady, and your below-average receiving corps.
Buffalo’s best work has come against bad teams, but it did stifle the Patriots when New England looked like a juggernaut, losing 16-10 at home mainly because of a blocked punt return touchdown. Buffalo is 5-1 away from home, proof its style travels well.
Speaking of that style, it’s ugly, and Buffalo’s lack of aesthetic appeal likely feeds into the lack of respect it has so far received. Look past the lack of a big-play, pyrotechnic passing attack and you see a team whose foundation is well built to survive in the postseason.
Buffalo runs the ball well, ranking fifth in the league in yards and 12th in yards per carry (4.6). At running back, 36-year-old Frank Gore and 22-year-old rookie Devin Singletary provide a nice 1-2 punch, with Singletary in particular picking up his production in Buffalo’s past five games (381 yards on 78 carries). Gore isn’t explosive anymore, but he’s a capable situational back.
At receiver, John Brown (881 yards receiving) is playing like a No. 1 wideout and proving he was a bargain free-agent signee. Although he hasn’t broken a huge play this season -– his longest reception is 40 yards –- Brown represents the kind of vertical threat that forces defenses to allocate extra resources.
The Bills also take care of the rock: Their 13 giveaways are seventh fewest in the NFL.
But here’s what I really like most about Buffalo: Josh Allen.
Yup, the guy who looked lost in a three-interception debacle against the Patriots in Week 4. Although he’s far from a finished product, the second-year QB has made major strides, starting almost immediately after his putrid Patriots effort.
In the eight games since, Allen has 13 touchdowns, two picks and a 98.7 passer rating (league average 91.1). He has rushed for 299 yards and five touchdowns in that span. Allen’s 430 yards rushing overall are third among quarterbacks, trailing only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
The major knocks on Allen coming out of Wyoming and after one year in Buffalo were that he wasn’t accurate or polished from the pocket. His play lately suggests that is no longer the case. His ability to beat teams in a more “traditional” sense makes the Bills all the more dangerous.
One more Allen nugget: He was terrible against the blitz in 2018, with just two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 58.1 passer rating. This season? Eight touchdowns against just four picks and an 83.6 passer rating. Start from Week 5, and those numbers jump to seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109 passer rating.
The numbers make it clear –- Buffalo is seeing rapid improvement at the most important position on the field. Allen is learning on the job, and when he’s good, the Bills are tough to beat. Buffalo is 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 13.4 points when Allen posts a passer rating over 100.
The Bills’ remaining schedule is daunting: After the Ravens, they have road games against the surging Steelers and the Patriots. All remaining opponents would make the playoffs if the season ended today. But Buffalo has the ingredients for something special. Dismiss the Bills at your own peril.